Forget the Mistletoe
(Or, that version of Play It Again, Charlie with fake dating at a Christmas party)
By R. Cooper
Copyright 2014 @ R. Cooper
“You don’t have to do this. Really.” Charlie’s voice was low and careful and far too close for Will to prevent a shiver. Will glanced up at him and had to fight a sigh at how serious he was. A grown man, no matter how fine, should not be so earnest while wearing a green sweater with a reindeer on it. The reindeer had a light-up nose; Charlie ought to look ridiculous. But the collared shirt he wore underneath made him a hot professor suffering through an embarrassing Christmas gift, which was exactly what he was. The sweater was a gift from one of his sisters and Charlie Howard, it seemed, would never dream of telling her it was awful.
Charlie would do a lot to keep from hurting the people he cared about. Will should have been alarmed at how warm that made him, but at this point, he was far past flushing when around Charlie and deep into racing heart territory.
He took a breath to steady himself. “Be your fake date to get your sisters to get your sisters off your back? Or be seen with someone in that sweater?” He smiled as he said it, so Charlie would know he was teasing.
A line appeared between Charlie’s eyes, but then it eased away as Charlie gently, but pointedly, poked the Santa hat Will was wearing. Will wrinkled his nose and reached up to return the hat to its jaunty angle. “I look adorable, I’ll have you know,” he huffed, but had to glance away at the unbearably fond look Charlie gave him. His heart felt like it was being squeezed when Charlie did that, and then somehow Will forgot what he was saying or what to do with his hands. He settled for looping one arm around Charlie’s and blithely ignoring Charlie’s shock. They were fake dating after all. That meant Will got to touch. He had thought about this.
He’d thought about it all week in fact, ever since Charlie had asked, embarrassed and apologetic for inconveniencing Will. He had seemed to think Will had some other plans. Maybe he had. But those plans could be broken for this. Will had been crushing hard on Grayson’s neighbor since the summer when Will had been apartment-sitting and knocked one of Grayson’s plants off his balcony, and an incredibly handsome, if cranky, man with a cane had stopped to yell at him about safety but then helped him clean it up and re-pot the poor plant.
It had taken an entire summer of languishing on the balcony like Tallulah Bankhead and talking about Charlie nonstop with his friends for Will’s sister to declare Will was smitten. Will had to agree. When Grayson had returned and Will had no reason to stalk, er, see Charlie again, it had been awful. Even friending Charlie on Facebook meant nothing because Charlie didn’t use social media for anything other than liking his sisters’ posts once in a while. Then Grayson had decided to go away around the holidays and Will had jumped at the chance to stay at his place again. And Charlie had smiled to see him and it had been exactly like it had been the first time, except now it was colder on the balcony so Charlie brought him coffee and sugary seasonal lattes, and then… this.
“My sisters--” Charlie kept trying to warn him off. They were on his sister’s porch already. Will was lit beguilingly by a thousand soft Christmas lights and ready to pretend-boyfriend his heart out. Nothing was going to shake him now.
“Pfft. Listen, Cinderella, we are doing this, and it’s going to be great, forget your ugly stepsisters.” Will took his chance to snuggle closer and push the doorbell so Charlie couldn’t change his mind. Though the thought made him pause. “Unless you think they won’t believe it… because we’re so different?” Charlie could make that blank cop face all he wanted, he knew what Will was talking about. He’d thought it too when he’d first met Will. He might still think it. Charlie was a respectable professor after all, and Will was a colorist with no permanent address. Will could pine all he wanted, but someone like Charlie wasn’t normally the kind to bring someone like Will home to the family.
Except here they were. He had no idea what Charlie was thinking.
“They aren’t ugly stepsisters,” Charlie insisted, like the good brother he was. It may have been all the red lights in the strands wrapped around the porch, but it looked like Charlie’s cheeks grew darker. “They’ll believe that I like you.” He cleared his throat. “But they can be difficult,” he added quickly and straightened when the door opened.
A smaller, curvier version of him opened the door. She was also in a terrible sweater—red, with a drunk-looking felt Santa on it, and she grimaced knowingly when she saw Will glance at it. “Ann,” she explained, apparently to Charlie, because then she began to say something in a stream of Spanish as she took the bottle of wine Charlie offered and pulled Charlie into a hug. The Spanish still caught Will off-guard. He could barely speak the one language so of course Charlie was fluent in two. At least two.
But he missed it when it was gone because then Charlie’s sister turned to get a better look at him. Every inch of Will suddenly felt like an aging twink in the Santa hat. He shouldn’t have worn it. He wasn’t Eartha Kitt. He should have worn some boring red sweater and flattened his hair. He shouldn’t be touching her brother. Charlie’s last boyfriend—real boyfriend—had probably worn a suit and tie and come off as masculine as the most repressed gay boy in the world.
He focused on the sister, who had indeed noticed how Will was leaning on her brother. She narrowed her eyes.
Charlie said, “Missy,” in a stern voice that went right to Will’s dick and took his arm from Will’s in order to slide it around Will’s back. Will turned to him with an expression he knew was adoring. He couldn’t help himself.
The meaner version of Charlie, or, as Will should probably be thinking of her, Missy, closed her mouth and then smiled. “Will, it’s good to finally meet you.”
The ‘finally” got Will’s attention, but he didn’t get a chance to ask. Charlie put his hand at the small of his back in a show of support that Will didn’t know what to do with, and Will stuttered in thanking her for inviting him.
“Come on in.” Again, Missy directed this at Charlie, but when she glanced at her brother, her face tightened. A moment later she was smiling widely at Will and holding the door for him. Charlie stopped to hug her in the doorway and exchange a few more words in quiet English, something about Ann—the sister Will was learning to fear.
But then Charlie was back at Will’s shoulder and guiding him to a closet by the foyer.
“Okay?” Whispered against Will’s ear as Charlie removed his coat for him, it was like the gentlest, best torture.
Will let Charlie hang their coats in his sister’s closet and then swooned dramatically against him. “My hero!” He almost laughed when Charlie caught him, but then he remembered Charlie hadn’t brought his cane and eased off enough to let Charlie stand. He was completely unprepared for Charlie wrapping his arms around him to steady him.
“Oh.” Will murmured and forgot trying to be decent. He leaned into Charlie even more. “Okay. Yes.” Every breath was full of Charlie’s aftershave, which was probably something simple but expensive and Will loved it. He lifted his head and nearly forgot Missy entirely at Charlie’s questioning look. “What?” Will blinked a few times, mostly to clear his head. He kept his voice down and his tone innocent. “I’m your boyfriend. That means I get to put my hands all over you.”
Yeah, okay, that didn’t sound at all like Will had been dreaming of doing just that or anything. He would have been more embarrassed about it if Charlie hadn’t stared at him in blank surprise. His shock was only there for a moment before it was gone, and then Charlie swallowed. “Because that’s what boyfriends do,” he agreed, but in a funny voice.
“Well, yeah.” Will was about to roll his eyes, because he hadn’t ever had a boyfriend, but he knew that much, until he thought of why Charlie might be so surprised at being touched in public. Charlie hadn’t said much about the pretty jerk on that coffee mug, but Will had gotten the gist. Now he got a little more. So what if the guy had money or manners or a nice suit, he hadn’t been kind to someone who only wanted to take care of people.
Next time Charlie invited him over for coffee—actual coffee, sadly—Will was going to shatter that thing. For now, Will was going to be the best boyfriend Charlie had ever had.
Since Charlie wasn’t complaining, Will let Charlie hold him up and looped his arms around Charlie’s neck. Charlie had said his sisters didn’t have a problem with him being gay, so this had better be okay. “Hmm, you are the best way to warm up from the cold,” he told Charlie, loud enough for nosy Miss Missy to hear. Then, when Charlie’s mouth went startled and soft, Will twisted to look at her. “I can’t help myself where Charlie is concerned. Sorry.”
He wasn’t sorry. Well, he was sorry if Charlie was uncomfortable, but to be honest, Charlie didn’t seem uncomfortable as much as confused. Will wished his fingers weren’t so cold, because when he stroked Charlie’s hair—too long and in need of another trim Will would be happy to provide—Charlie shivered.
Missy studied Will with her eyebrows drawn, then her brother for another second before she put a hand to her face. “I’ll just--” she waved in another direction. “Everyone else is in the living room.” Then she left.
“So we’re doing this.” How Charlie could still sound surprised that Will was down for pretend boyfriend time with him was beyond Will, although for the first time he was starting to get his suspicions.
Will hadn’t moved out of his arms. He really ought to feel guilty about that. Really. He was going to try, at least. Charlie dropped his arms but kept one hand at Will’s back. “Let me know if you’re uncomfortable.”
“Yes, sir,” Will purred, because that was the kind of order he liked getting and because Charlie definitely blushed for it. His chiding glance at Will was even better. Will petted his hair one last time and sighed. This was going to be hard to give up. “Anything else, Charlie? Should I ease up on the PDAs or act a little less twinky?”
He wasn’t going to lie; he about melted when Charlie pushed the fluffy white brim of his hat up in a gesture Bogart couldn’t have done better. Charlie smiled at him, a happy smile that made no sense with his eyes so dark and sad. “You’re perfect,” Charlie told him, then took a deep breath and squared his shoulders.
Will took that as his cue to turn with him and head into the lion’s den—living room. He stepped away only to nearly trip when Charlie stayed at his shoulder, one hand light but steady at his back. Will’s heart was a trip hammer in his ears.
“Oh,” Will said out loud again, and wondered if having a real boyfriend was as dangerous as having a fake one.
The thing about adult Christmas parties—real adults, not Will’s friends—was that while they served alcohol, they also served other things besides drinks. After making the rounds with Charlie at his back introducing Will in a voice that made Will burn, Will had ended up against the wall, next to a table full of Christmas goodies.
Will had eaten dinner, honestly, a whole half of a pack of grocery store California rolls leftover from lunch, but he had never seen so many frosted sugar cookies in his entire life. Snowmen and trees and stars like something out of a magazine, glossy bright frosting that was calling to him. He sipped his spiked eggnog, low calorie, according to the third sister, Katia, and stared longingly at gingerbread men. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a gingerbread man, and that said nothing for the trays of nuts and candies and the actual, honest-to-god gingerbread house in the middle of the table.
Charlie wasn’t far away. Someone whose name Will didn’t remember had called him over, so after a questioning look at Will and Will’s nod, Charlie had gone. He was still and not quite tense in the middle of the room. These were his sister’s friends from what Will understood. Or Missy’s husband’s friends. It was a little unclear. Katia, the youngest sister, had left her newest boyfriend in order to disappear into the kitchen with the other two. Somehow, Will didn’t think it was paranoid to assume they were discussing him. Charlie had said his sisters could be difficult, but Will wondered if he’d expected this level of reaction to the simple idea of Charlie dating someone.
Or maybe it was the idea of Charlie dating Will, with his silly hat and silly hair and tight black shirt threaded with sparkles.
It couldn’t be the hat anyway; he wasn’t the only person wearing a Santa hat, and a joker had brought in a sprig of mistletoe earlier as well. Not to mention that the people not drinking the spiked eggnog were drinking some kind of rum punch. Charlie was the sole person Will knew of who hadn’t taken a single sip of alcohol. He was drinking soda.
Will glanced at the cookies again, then across the room at the table filled with more nutritious and less fattening fare; meatballs and rolls and little taco things and some kind of dip. If he was going to eat, he should stick to that. Real food. Like the adult he could pretend to be. Like Charlie’s last boyfriend, the one who had obviously been very different from Will, the one who hadn’t held Charlie enough or fawned over him or confessed to his wide-eyed sisters that he’d fallen hard for Charlie from the instant Charlie had first frowned at him.
Charlie had gone so very still to hear that, though that had been nothing to how tense he’d gotten when Katia had added, “I can see that. You light up just talking about him.”
She had seemed surprised by that. Which, what kind of bitch couldn’t see how awesome her brother was? Charlie answered her calls no matter what he was doing, and she had the nerve to doubt someone would want him?
It was no good. Will picked up a sweetly decorated snowman and snuck a nibble.
“You can just eat them, you know,” Charlie’s voice in his ear made him choke. Everyone turned for a moment to stare at him and Will glared up to let Charlie know that was his fault. Charlie immediately took the cookie from him. “Sorry. Here.” He put down his cup of soda in order to hand Will his eggnog.
Like that, Will was done being annoyed with him. He obediently sipped then licked a drop from his lip when Charlie took the cup away. For a moment, Charlie seemed arrested. Then he let out a breath and lowered his head.
“Are you bored?” Charlie spoke just above a whisper. “Parties aren’t really my thing, but you must… you go to a lot.”
“Bored?” Will coughed and leaned in to indicate he’d like more eggnog, please. He didn’t think Charlie even noticed how he lifted Will’s cup so Will could have another drink, not until Will licked his mouth again. Then Charlie was suddenly very still. “No, I’m not bored,” Will told him truthfully. “Although I’m not sure what your sisters make of me.”
“If they say anything to you, tell me,” Charlie rumbled.
Will made a happy sound and darted out his tongue once more, although he couldn’t have cared less about the taste of nutmeg.
“My big, strong boyfriend gonna do something about it?” Will teased, and momentarily could not breathe for the hungry expression on Charlie’s face. Then Charlie turned to look at the others in the room.
“Your boyfriend,” Charlie said after a long pause, a strain in the words, “was wondering why you’ve been staring at the table of cookies for an hour. Did you eat dinner?”
“I…” Will considered his answer carefully. He knew from experience that Charlie wasn’t great about lies, in that he tended to see right through them, but also disapproved of them. He hadn’t even lied to his sisters yet, Will had noticed. Charlie hadn’t actually said Will was his boyfriend. Instead, he’d kept up with the light touches at Will’s back, and one at his shoulder. In addition to lies, Charlie was also not good about the times Will forgot to take care of himself. Will hummed and equivocated. “I ate a small dinner,” he explained at last.
Charlie immediately held out the snowman cookie. He probably meant for Will to take it. Will knew that. The eggnog in Will’s system, however, decided to push Will forward and to have him duck his head to take a bite of the offered snowman. A small sound from the other side of the table made him think that one or all of the sisters had seen that. Charlie’s cheeks were darkening with color. Will couldn’t make himself feel bad about it, although he didn’t think this was kind of thing boyfriends did. At least, not in front of family.
But he chewed and swallowed, and felt a tremor run through him when Charlie used his thumb to wipe a crumb from the corner of his mouth. Then Charlie offered the rest of the cookie.
Will had a figure to think of, but he took a nibble, like a good boy. Like the best boy. Like the kind of boy Charlie could take home and keep if he wanted.
“Will.” Charlie’s voice made his chest tight, but when Charlie tipped his cup for him, Will took another drink. He thought distantly that this was obviously not pretend, not for him, and Charlie knew that and was probably curious about all the things Will had hinted at before, what he was into in bed. But a distant worry didn’t compare to Charlie gently dusting crumbs from his mouth or breaking off a piece of gingerbread for him when the snowman was gone.
“Your sisters are going to think I’m using you for sex,” Will confessed breathlessly, but whined softly until Charlie fed him another piece of gingerbread.
“They aren’t the only ones watching,” Charlie answered. Will had no idea what to make of Charlie’s frown for that, but finally pulled back and wiped at his mouth. His lips were buzzing too much for the small amount of booze he’d had.
“Good.” Will was one more cookie from giving no fucks. Charlie shot him a curious look and Will tried a shrug. “They don’t like it when you touch me. Your sisters, I mean. Have they never seen anyone want you, or is it because… is it because it’s me?”
Charlie’s eyebrows went up, then down. “I spoiled them when they were little. They’re used to having my undivided attention. Instead, I’ve spent all evening with you.”
Will barely, barely bit back a comment about how Charlie wasn’t their father, but considering that two minutes ago he’d been about half a second from calling Charlie ‘daddy’, he thought it best to say nothing. He bobbed his head to the quiet Christmas music in the background, Mariah Carey of course, and finished his drink in an effort to make him forget Charlie touching his mouth.
The world seemed to tilt. Will put one hand on the table and the other on Charlie. Charlie turned back to him. “Oh,” Will announced for the third time at least that night and curled against Charlie’s side in what was becoming a habit. “Your sisters got me a little tipsy.”
“Very probably.” Charlie seemed to curl around him too, and speak every word into Will’s ear, like he was telling very warm secrets. He put down Will’s empty cup for him. “I should have warned you. Their drinks only look innocent.”
“It’s cool.” Will buried his face in Charlie’s shoulder, almost at his neck, and took a deep breath. “I forgive you, because we’re boyfriends.”
“You say that like you like it,” Charlie observed, almost stopping Will’s heart. “But you said before that you’d never had a boyf…” Charlie trailed off. “That idiot is back and his mistletoe is missing.”
Will didn’t understand why that information was important, but raised his head anyway. Oh yeah, the sisters were giving him polite stares that were also glares if you happened to know they hated you. Well, except for the other one. Ann, she of the tacky sweaters and horrid pillow making. She was outright glaring. Will blinked at her, aware he was now flushed and probably looked as tipsy as he was. He pulled down his Santa hat, although it was starting to get hot.
“Are they onto us?” he asked in total confusion, even more lost when Charlie’s unhappy frown disappeared. Charlie curved his lips in a slow smile and tipped Will’s hat back up.
“Stop doing that,” Charlie instructed gently.
Will nodded. “Yes, Charlie,” he agreed, though then he scowled. “I can wear my hat however I want. But it’s hot now. But if I take it off, I’ll have hat hair.” Charlie’s smile got even better, or worse. He was so fucking charming when he wasn’t trying to be. Will waved at him. “This is because you’re sober. I’m going to have to get you drunk later.”
“When we’re home, Will.” Charlie did not seem to object to the idea.
“Are you going to take me home, Charlie?” Will wondered in the faintest whisper. Playing Charlie’s boyfriend must have gone to his head. Charlie had had plenty of chances to fuck Will and hadn’t yet, to Will’s regret. He sighed before Charlie could answer. “Well,” he said after a while, “should I fawn over you some more to get them used to idea of a boyfriend who adores your everything, or do you think that is really what’s upsetting them?”
“I…” Charlie took a heavy breath. “What do you mean?”
Will squinted at him. “Don’t be dense. They aren’t used to someone who’s actually competition for your attention, but they’ve met your last boyfriend. That guy,” Mark, but Will wasn’t going to say his name, “wasn’t like this with you. They don’t know what this means.”
Charlie had gone impassive and thoughtful again. He was thinking something over, or worrying. Will would never have guessed when he met Charlie that Charlie hid so much behind his blank expressions.
“Hey,” Will called softly, and nudged him until those brown eyes were focused solely on him. “Sooner or later they were going to have to accept that you would settle down. I mean, you’re you. No way is anyone with sense going to let you get away. Let them deal with it. If, uh, if you think they can.”
“It’s… not that.” Charlie worked his jaw, then leaned down so speak the words at the shell of Will’s ear. “Katia took the mistletoe. I think they’re going to try to get us under it.”
“God, I hope so,” Will exhaled without thinking, aching and warm in the moments before Charlie inched back to stare at him. “I mean….” Will ended that there, because he had no idea what he meant except that he didn’t care if it was a test from the sisters to see if he loved Charlie, he’d kiss Charlie right now if Charlie wanted. He wondered if that was on his face, if he was lit up for Charlie the way they had said. “Eggnog,” he tried to explain it away in case he was and Charlie’s silence meant he was uncomfortable.
Charlie angled his head up to glance around the room then returned his focus to Will. He slid his palm along Will’s jaw. Will made a low sound of surprise that turned to a small, heady moan when Charlie brushed his mouth over his.
Charlie immediately pulled back. “I’m sorry.” He apologized as though Will wasn’t blinking at him in shocked need and wetting his lips. “Eggnog,” Charlie echoed Will’s earlier excuse, then cleared his throat. “Missy is signaling that she needs help in the kitchen. I won’t be long.” He looked flushed and uncomfortable and took off before Will could think of a damn thing to say.
Like how Charlie hadn’t had any eggnog, or how Will had been all but asking him for a kiss, how that one had been too short.
Will wasn’t drunk, but he was confused, and getting more so by the minute. He didn’t doubt Missy needed her brother’s help for something—those women always seemed to need their brother’s help—he wasn’t sure it was a good idea to be separated from Charlie’s side right now.
Will took a step, then jumped without any grace at all when Ann appeared in front of him.
Ann crossed her arms and swept a look from Will’s shoes to the top of his Santa hat. Will switched on the smile he used on unpleasant brides. “Ann. We didn’t really get to talk before.”
Charlie had prevented it, in fact, now that Will thought about it.
“So you’re what my brother has been hiding from us.” Ann made a grumbling sound, not unlike the one Sam made when he wanted Charlie to scratch behind his ears.
“Hiding me?” Will raised his eyebrows. “I’m not his dirty little secret. Not that I’d mind.” That was a lie. He’d sleep with Charlie this very second if he asked, but the right to be with him in front of his family was something Will was going to miss after tonight. No one had ever brought Will home.
Ann did not seem amused, or to care very much that Will had been doing his best to make a good impression. “Did you not want to meet us?”
“Well, I’ve never met a guy’s family before. And Charlie was really worried you all wouldn’t like me. Which apparently was a good instinct since you hate me.” He snorted when Ann opened her mouth. “Girl, please. You guys have gone out of your way to question everything or make me feel so uncomfortable that Charlie hasn’t felt safe leaving my side for a second.”
“You think that’s why he’s--” Ann closed her mouth with a snap.
“Someday he’s going to bring someone he really cares about to meet you, and I hope you guys are kinder to him than you’ve been to me, because let me tell you something about your brother,” Will stepped into Ann’s space to hiss the words, “he’s the sweetest, softest marshmallow under that hot, grouchy exterior, and he’s practically dying of loneliness. If he meets someone good for him, really good for him, not like me,” Will wasn’t choking, nope, not at all, “if he meets that guy, that guy he gets to care for and protect and be crazy about….” Will cleared his throat. “If he finds someone like that and you and your sisters scare him off just because you want Charlie to spend all his time on you, well, I will… I will do something drastic. Okay, I have no idea what because violence isn’t really my area, but something!”
He was breathing hard when he finished.
Ann let her arms fall, then crossed them again. She bit her lip. “You look back at him,” she said, then narrowed her eyes. “You’re in love with my brother and you don’t care that anyone can see it.”
Will bumped the table with his hip. Love was different from smitten, so very different. Nonetheless, he put his hands on his cheeks and glanced away. “You act like that’s weird,” he answered at last. “Anyway, he doesn’t seem to see it, so it doesn’t matter if I have… If I have feelings. Like that.”
“My brother isn’t stupid.” If Ann was offended again, Will wasn’t in the mood to handle it. He rolled his eyes before looking at her, but then stopped because she was shaking her head. “He’s been hovering over you like he thought we were going to eat you. But it’s not that.”
Will disagreed but didn’t get to say so. Ann took Charlie’s abandoned soda and took a drink, then made a face, probably when she realized it was non-alcoholic. “I have no idea what you mean,” Will admitted, and Ann slammed the cup of soda on the table.
“When that son of a bitch was with him, you wouldn’t even have known they were dating. He wouldn’t go near him, wouldn’t even take his hand. I thought my brother liked it that way, but now I see him with you.” Ann waved at Will, her posture and expression both incredibly uncomfortable. “How he is with other people is how he should be all the time. And he never was. Never got to be, I think now. Then you let him. You encourage him.” Her frown wasn’t happy but somehow Will didn’t feel like it was aimed at him this time.
Will lowered his hands then slowly turned from her to Charlie, who was by the kitchen. Charlie was looking sternly down at Katia, who had the sprig of bagged mistletoe in one hand and wasn’t concealing it very well.
He was going to be a gentleman and insist Katia not force Will to kiss him. Charlie was going to be a gentleman if it killed him, because he was an idiot, and assumed no one would want to kiss him, least of all in public. It’s like he didn’t know Will at all.
Tipsy off eggnog or not, Will pushed past Ann and the straight couple blocking his path. He stopped in front of Charlie and grabbed hold of handfuls of reindeer sweater before Charlie had finished turning to look at him. “Forget the mistletoe,” Will panted, and pulled Charlie down to press their mouths together.
Will’s lips were parted, his breathing heavy before the first incredible second of contact and the puff of Charlie’s startled exclamation. He wanted to beg, murmur, “Charlie, please,” as shivers shot down his spine and electricity burned through him wherever they touched, but he couldn’t pull away. He pressed forward softly, mouth open, inviting, and clutched at Charlie’s stupid, sexy sweater when Charlie finally slid a hand to the side of his face to hold him still and kiss him back.
Gently. Charlie kissed gently and Will should not have been so surprised, so charmed by it that he groaned and tilted his chin up for more, only to feel Charlie’s teeth nipping at his lower lip and the firm pressure of Charlie’s hand at his back, keeping him against Charlie’s body. Will pushed his hands up to tangle them in Charlie’s hair and cling to his shoulders. He thought he was begging, after all, hiccoughing nearly silent, hitching sounds into Charlie’s mouth, words he couldn’t form.
Then someone coughed roughly, a few times, and someone who wasn’t Will called Charlie’s name.
Charlie raised his head, not far, too far. Will was so hot and confused. He didn’t look at the rest of the room, not with Charlie staring at him with stunned heat. “Oh,” Will whispered. His knees were weak. If he hadn’t been holding onto Charlie, he had a feeling his hands would have been trembling.
Charlie ran the backs of his fingers across Will’s cheek and someone, possibly Katia, gasped.
“Forget the mistletoe?” Charlie repeated, very serious for a man who couldn’t catch his breath.
“Take me home, Charlie,” Will returned, just as serious.
Charlie didn’t take his eyes off Will, but he gave a small twitch. “Everyone can hear you.”
“Duh.” Will had never gone to college and was no kind of boyfriend, even pretend, for a professor. The smile his reply brought out of Charlie though, was the kind of beautiful sight that people wrote songs about.
Yeah, Will could admit it, to himself anyway. He was all kinds of in love with Charlie Howard. Charlie smiled at him and Will had probably lit up like the tree in the corner. He was going to be the boyfriend Charlie’s sisters never forgot, even if the boyfriend part wasn’t real.
Charlie raised an eyebrow at him. Will could tell he wasn’t sure how much of this was acting. Will wrapped his hand around Charlie’s and pulled it down between them. He kept their fingers twined together. Holding hands, of all things, made him so hot he could have burst out of his skin.
All at once, Charlie’s sisters began talking. Some of it was English, some of it wasn’t. Will found he didn’t care about that anymore either. They were upset, and Charlie stared at Will for another second anyway. “I have to say our goodbyes,” Charlie said finally, rough-voiced and quiet.
“So say them.” Will was as bad as Ann said. He did encourage this. And instead of ignoring him, Charlie wiped the smile from his face and turned to his sisters to say goodnight to each of them.
Will nodded along, tightening his grip on Charlie’s hand through each startled stare and pleading protest. The other guests probably didn’t know what to make of them, but what were the odds Will would see those people again? The three that mattered were fluttering around their brother for another few minutes, and then growing silent and hugging him with expressions that could only be described as pouts.
Ann followed them back down to the foyer and stood watching as Charlie helped Will into his coat. When they were done, before her brother could say another word, she announced, “I’ll package up some of the cookies and bring them for you tomorrow.” She spoke to Charlie, but her gaze was steady on Will.
He couldn’t decide if it was friendly or not, and didn’t think he cared until he was outside and Ann was closing the door behind them.
“They aren’t that bad.” Will surprised himself with the pronouncement. “I mean, all together they are a little much, and talk about not afraid to speak their minds… But you know, one on one, they weren’t….” Okay, he couldn’t quite lie. “Ann was all right, in the end.”
“Yeah?” Charlie didn’t move. A line came and went between his eyes. He didn’t reach out to take Will’s hand and now that they were out in the cold, away from their audience, Will didn’t have the balls to try to take his again. He shoved his hands in his pockets instead. He regretted it when the line returned between Charlie’s eyes. Charlie was going to get wrinkles and it was going to be Will’s fault.
“They love you a lot,” Will added diplomatically, then looked around at the dark street, the bare trees, all those Christmas lights that almost made him wish he lived in a proper suburban neighborhood. Almost. This was as close to playing house as he was ever going to get anyway.
“Thank you for doing this.” Charlie kept his attention on Will. “You didn’t have to.”
He’d already said that at least a dozen times. Will gave him a little eye roll, only to end up glancing out into the street again when staring at Charlie made it hard to breathe. His heart thundered against his ribcage.
“I wanted to do it.” Will wrinkled his nose, because he didn’t regret it, but he hadn’t expected to feel this strongly when it was over. “I’m glad I did it. I wish….” His face was getting cold and yet he was making no move to head toward Charlie’s car. “In old movies, this would have been hilarious. Well, if it was a sixties sex comedy we would have been an ongoing gay joke that Middle America wasn’t supposed to get. But, you know, if this was Christmas in Connecticut or something you would have realized by now that the pretense was just that.” He sighed wistfully. “Are you still taking me home?”
“You want to?” Charlie didn’t keep the surprise out of his tone.
Will exhaled roughly, then threw his hands into the air. “Damn it, Charlie. Don’t pretend you can’t see it when your sisters saw it plain as day!”
He shook his head in frustration, then stilled when Charlie reached out to tug Will’s hat down over the tips of his ears. Charlie seemed focused on his hand as he tipped the brim up off Will’s forehead and swept a few stray hairs out of his eyes.
Charlie was killing him. Will whimpered and closed his eyes when Charlie touched his cheek. “Please keep touching me.” Will had no shame and no dignity. “Nobody touches me like that, except you, Charlie.” Will licked his mouth, the lips that had gone cold because Charlie hadn’t kissed him again the second they were alone.
Charlie pressed his thumb to Will’s bottom lip and Will opened his eyes. Charlie was sad and dark-eyed. “Will, you had a lot of eggnog.”
“If I’m dizzy, it’s not from eggnog.” Will took hold of Charlie’s wrist to keep his hand where it was. “I’ve been dizzy since you rescued Grayson’s plant for me. How can everybody see that but you, you big dope?”
“But you’re….” Charlie left that unfinished and stared at Will. He was all warm surprise again. “You aren’t drunk?”
“Tipsy, Charlie, is not drunk. I’ve had more to drink on a slow Wednesday.” Which wasn’t an argument that strengthened his case. Will drew in a long breath. “Is that so hard to imagine? You… like that… with me?”
“It’s hard to believe you’d want me,” Charlie responded without hesitation and swept his thumb across Will’s lip like he couldn’t help himself.
Charlie’s honesty knocked the wind out of him.
Will was going to find that ex and tear him a new one. “That’s… are you joking?” Will wheezed. “Is that why you never--?” This wasn’t the time to remember how desperately he’d been flirting with Charlie and whatever Charlie had convinced himself Will meant by it. “But you invited me here.”
“And you accepted.” Charlie regarded Will with a puzzled air. “You didn’t even think about it. You said yes, even though I was asking you to--” Charlie stopped and the soft Christmas lights didn’t the hide the realization taking over his expression. “You were excited.”
“Merry Christmas to me,” Will told him fiercely, so Charlie could finally grasp what a stupid smitten kitten Will really was.
“I didn’t want to read into it.” For a professor, Charlie was pretty dumb. Will had waited for him on that balcony in the rain. Which, admittedly, had led to Charlie taking Will instead and drying him off and making him soup, and Will curled up on Charlie’s couch.
Then he’d fallen asleep there and Charlie had gone to sleep in his own bed. Will was going to scream. But later, much later.
He tugged Charlie’s hand closer, bringing Charlie closer in the process, and met Charlie’s gaze as he flicked his tongue against the tip of Charlie’s thumb. Charlie brought his other hand up to cup Will’s cheek.
“Will,” he rasped when Will licked his thumb again before taking it into his mouth. “Will.” His voice was the stuff of Will’s fantasies. “Will, we are on my sister’s porch.”
Honestly, Will couldn’t tell if that was a warning or a dare. He was absolutely willing to blow Charlie underneath a canopy of Christmas lights. This was something Charlie needed to realize. Will wanted him exactly that fucking much.
He pulled his mouth away long enough for Charlie to slide his hand under his chin and urge his head up. Will met his stare. “If you want me to stop, Charlie, tell me to stop.” He wasn’t sure what he wanted more, to keep going or for Charlie to give him an order.
Charlie stroked his cheek, then his jaw, his fingers slipping back toward Will’s mouth. But when Will darted out his tongue for another taste, Charlie made a rough noise.
“Will, stop,” he growled, and appeared startled when Will did. He opened his mouth, as if he wanted to argue something, then closed it again. He skated his fingers over Will’s mouth and blinked in astonishment when Will whined. He took a cautious step forward, almost tense. “At least,” Charlie swallowed, “at least until we’re home.”
Will lifted his head. He couldn’t stop his smile. “Oh right.” He’d almost forgotten the best part. “You’re taking me home with you.”
“Yes.” Charlie’s growly, confident voice warmed Will up even faster than the hand he snuck underneath the reindeer sweater. But Charlie wasn’t moving.
Will peeked up at him, and spoke loudly to be heard over his pounding heart. “Because that’s what boyfriends do?” he asked, hopeful and pathetic, and felt like the real Santa Claus at the way Charlie smiled for him, brighter than any of the lights around them.